Baykeeper Update

New Action in Baykeeper’s Advocacy Against Coal Export from Oakland

In October, Baykeeper filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the export of coal from a new shipping terminal proposed for Oakland. Baykeeper and our partners recently dismissed the suit, after Oakland city leaders announced they would decide the fate of the proposed coal export project after an ongoing review process. Coal export would involve coal shipment by rail along the Bay shoreline.

We will closely monitor the progress of the city’s review of the project, and continue to advocate for Oakland to prevent coal export. If the city does not act to protect the Bay from coal pollution, we will re-file our lawsuit.

Our goal is to prevent the pollution coal export would cause to San Francisco Bay and local communities. After denying for years that coal would be part of the project, the developer of the Oakland Bulk and Oversize Terminal at the old Oakland Army Base is proposing to export millions of tons of Utah coal each year. The coal would arrive in Oakland via long trains of open cars running on tracks close to the Bay’s shore, and be loaded onto ships.

Oakland city leaders are currently assessing the health and safety impacts of coal export from that city, with action expected in February 2016. Baykeeper’s partners in the dismissed lawsuit—Sierra Club, Citizens for a Better Environment, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, and Earthjustice—will also continue to advocate against coal export from Oakland.

Many harmful impacts would result if coal is exported through Oakland. Coal contains arsenic, lead, and other toxins. Shipping coal through the Bay Area by rail could contaminate San Francisco Bay with coal dust blowing off open train cars. According to the rail industry’s own calculations, each open coal car loses between 500 and 2,000 pounds of dust and coal during its journey. In addition, water is used to control dust during the unloading of coal from train cars; this contaminated water would likely drain into the Bay. Coal could also be spilled directly into the Bay during ship loading. 

Coal dust can smother plants and animals that live on the Bay bottom. It can keep fish from finding food, slow the growth of fish, and interfere with fish reproduction. Harm to fish also means harm to an important food source for birds and marine mammals.

In addition to polluting the Bay, coal dust carried in open train cars would blow into neighborhoods near railroad tracks in cities that include Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, and West Oakland. Research links coal dust to asthma—which is already a widespread public health problem in West Oakland—as well as bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, and heart disease.

Baykeeper has advocated against coal export from Oakland for years. At an Oakland City Council hearing in September, Baykeeper and the Coal-Free Oakland Coalition urged Oakland leaders to prohibit the export of coal from that city. We also helped scuttle a proposal by developers in 2014 for a new facility to export coal from the Port of Oakland.

In addition, we are working in opposition to an export terminal proposed for Vallejo that also may be used to export coal. Baykeeper will continue to press forward to protect San Francisco Bay, its wildlife, and residents of neighborhoods near railroad tracks from toxic coal dust.